Changes to council tax system will affect thousands of Hartlepool residents

Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

COUNCILLORS are being asked to endorse changes to a council tax benefit system which will affect thousands of residents after the majority of people backed the plans in a consultation.

Hartlepool Borough Council has been consulting over its plans to increase the cut in levels of council tax benefit from 8.5 per cent to 12 per cent. That would mean those in a Band A property being liable for £135 of council tax a year, rather than £95 with the current 8.5 per cent cut.

Only 135 people responded to the consultation, which asked whether residents thought the 12 per cent reduction was fair, but 60.4 per cent said yes and 35.8 per cent no.

It also asked how much people agreed or disagreed with the reduction in support, to which 55 per cent ‘strongly agreed’ and 34 per cent ‘strongly disagreed’.

The finance and policy committee is set to meet to discuss the proposals, which follow national changes to the council tax benefit system. In April last year, councils were given the power to administer the benefit from Government but with a 10 per cent cut in funding.

That meant in real terms it was a 13.4 per cent for Hartlepool which meant the local authority effectively had £1.5m taken away resulting in less being given away in benefits.

Because pensioners are among the vulnerable groups protected and in order to ease the burden on others, councillors agreed at the time for a tapered approach over four years for the council’s localised council tax support (LCTS) scheme.

It was agreed there would be an 8.5 per cent reduction for 2013-14 and the council is now proposing to increase to 12 per cent in 2014-15 before rising to 20 per cent in 2015-16.

It is due to “significantly higher grant cuts” and finance chiefs have previously argued continuing to phase the reduction would still help households but also allow the council to share the grant cut across the general fund and the LCTS scheme.

In town, 15,000 households receive the council tax benefit, including 6,600 pensioner households and 8,500 working age households, with £13.3m of benefit awarded annually.

The committee meets Friday, January 24, at 9.30am at the Civic Centre. Councillors are asked a 12 per cent cut for 2014-15, be referred to full council.